The death toll in Zimbabwe’s worst ever cholera outbreak has now topped 2000, with more than 100 deaths – and nearly 1500 new cases – added to the official record this week.
The United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) adds that the number of reported cases have now topped 40 000.
The UN News Centre adds that virtually no part of the country has been spared the epidemic, made worse by a near collapse of the health system and deteriorating humanitarian conditions.
The disease, which is caused by contaminated food or water, has affected all ten of Zimbabwe`s provinces, and nearly 90 per cent of the country`s 62 local districts.
Half the cases are in the capital, Harare, and only a handful of professionals are staffing clinics where several dozen are needed.
WHO and sister agencies, such the UN Children`s Fund (UNICEF), have been scaling up their efforts to respond to the outbreak, including through the delivery of vital medical supplies.
Boniface Nzara, a Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Specialist with UNICEF Zimbabwe, painted a grim picture of what he found during a recent visit to a rural clinic in Chinrundu, a small community in the country`s northwest region. The clinic, which only has the capacity to treat eight patients, was overwhelmed on the day of his visit, with 185 cases and 16 deaths.
“When we arrived at the clinic we were met by a frightening sight. People with cholera were just lying outside the clinic with very little assistance,” said Nzara. “The hygiene situation inside was literally a cholera breeding ground.”
UNICEF was able to assist the clinic by providing a “cholera kit,” which includes two treatment tents large enough to house 50 patients, beds and pit latrine equipment, as well as IV fluids and oral rehydration salts.
The agency also supplied a 5000-litre water tank and 500 000 water-purification tablets to secure safe drinking water in the short term.
The cholera epidemic is just the latest crisis to hit Zimbabwe, which has been faced with a worsening humanitarian situation owing to years of failed harvests, bad governance and hyperinflation, as well as months of political tensions after disputed presidential elections in March involving the incumbent Robert Mugabe and the opposition figure Morgan Tsvangirai.
Although a power-sharing deal on the formation of a new government was reached in September with the help of regional leaders, outstanding issues remain, jeopardising the deal`s implementation.
Meanwhile, SAPA reports that 52 new cases of cholera were reported yesterday in South Africa`s northern Limpopo province that abuts Zimbabwe, taking the total to 1854. Nine people have died so far. Most of the patients are Zimbabwean.
By Tuesday, 33 cases had been confirmed in Gauteng, up from the 30 on Monday with three deaths reported there. Figures for other provinces were not immediately available, but on Monday it was reported that the Western Cape had seven confirmed cases, with no deaths. KwaZulu-Natal had two confirmed cases and the North West recorded two cases in the first week of January.
In Zambia 28 people are reported to have died of cholera.